Suns will stay in comfort zone
By BOB BAUM
PHOENIX — Losing one game in Phoenix was tolerable for the Los Angeles Lakers. Two losses and things start to get uncomfortable for the reigning NBA champions.
It's safe to say that coach Phil Jackson was giving his team a refresher course on how to beat a zone defense when the Lakers worked out at US Airways Center yesterday after Phoenix employed the strategy to great success in its 118-109 victory Sunday night. The Suns can square the series at 2-2 with another home win in Game 4 tonight.
Jackson said he had never seen a team use the zone so much in a playoff game since the NBA legalized the defense in the 2001-02 season, not that Kobe Bryant seemed all that concerned.
When asked if a day of practice would be enough to work out how to attack the zone, he answered sarcastically.
"Nah," he said. "We're doomed."
The Suns used the zone much of the second quarter and the entire second half. Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said that was more than he anticipated but he stuck with it because it worked when nothing else had against the Lakers, who averaged 126 points and shot 58 percent in the series' first two games.
There were inferences yesterday that the zone is somehow an "unmanly" defense, that real teams play man-to-man.
"We have to try every way we can to find a situation where we can win," Gentry said. "Whatever that takes, that's what it is. If we have to play our 'girlie zone' as somebody said, we'll play our 'girlie zone.' "
Steve Nash's nose and Andrew Bynum's knee were main subjects of discussion yesterday.
Nash has a small nasal fracture from a fourth-quarter collision with Derek Fisher but said he's had "a handful" of broken noses and expected to be fine for Game 4. After all, he played the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals with his right eye swollen shut after taking an elbow from Tim Duncan.
"To me I think he's as tough as they come," Gentry said. "You saw what happened in the game last night, he tried to rearrange his own nose."
Bynum got in early foul trouble and had just two points and two rebounds in 7 1/2 minutes Sunday night. After the game, Jackson talked about perhaps having the big center, who has a small meniscus tear in his right knee, sit out the next game. But Jackson said yesterday that Bynum would play.
"I talked to him this morning. He feels like he's OK," the Lakers coach said.